Are You a Grown Up?


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Are You a Grown Up?

By Noel Ward, Editor@Large

You’re out of the office on a Friday morning sales call when your production manager learns that the guy running your Baltindicoh 8600 XL is moving to another state and the Baltindicoh is having major problems. Downtime is about to occur. The production manager has called for service but is hyper-uncomfortable being the bearer of bad news. Besides, you’re out anyway. S/he bails about 5 PM.

You get back at 7:12 PM, happy with the order for 62,220 pages you’ll print Monday on the Baltindicoh, followed by 87,300 the following week and more next month. You are totally unaware that the service tech has determined the machine requires a part made of unobtanium and that your most skilled press operator has one foot out the door. This communication issue may be a short circuit in the production person’s prefrontal cortex. It will land in your lap on Monday.

Wait. Prefrontal cortex?

Yep. A few millimeters behind your forehead lies the frontal lobe of your brain. Part of it is an area called the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which is not fully developed in humans until one is in their early twenties—or theoretically grown up. This is one of the reasons your teenager does or says things that seem, shall we say, a tad less than rational. And given the behavior of assorted elected officials and business leaders, I wonder why so many prefrontal cortex’s out in the wild seem to be a few sandwiches short of a picnic.

Maybe they aren’t grown-ups.

A couple of medical websites say the prefrontal cortex orchestrates a range of thoughts and actions. These include planning, decision-making, moderating social behavior, and controlling some aspects of speech and language. The PFC also helps differentiate conflicting thoughts, determining good and bad, better and best, and the consequences of activities.

By the way, few of us are truly good at all these things. Doubt this? Check with your spouse.

Since you run a business and have been at it awhile your prefrontal cortex is probably in pretty good shape. But just as we all have different strengths, weaknesses and skill sets, not all parts of one’s PFC work equally well. This may be why some of the people who work for you don’t seem to “get” your agenda for making the business a success. And no matter their age, some are not grown-ups and never will be. Still, there are things you can do to help the shortcomings residing in the PFCs of your team and even your own.

There are ways of mitigating some aspects of PFC shortcomings and part of it may be something you can do every day. One of these is listening to your team to find out what works, doesn’t work, and what your customers are saying to them.

“Listening is absolutely critical,” says Francis McMahon, EVP at Canon Solutions America. “It’s vital to listen to employees, top customers, and your partners. Hear and understand what they are telling you.”

In many businesses, customer input doesn’t always reach far enough up the food chain so that the guy in charge can act on customer input. For instance, the last job on your offset or digital press looked fine and was delivered on time, but you never knew your CSR lost track of it twice and the customer had to tell three different people how it was supposed to be bound.

Truly listening helps provide context that puts you on the path to understanding the what and why of events so you can act effectively and maybe think outside the box. Your own PFC helps you be the adult in the room when those around you act like teenagers.

For instance, imagine how different it would be if the production manager had called to tell you of the that s/he had already arranged with the equipment vendor to borrow the needed part, to have the machine repaired over the weekend, and asked two other shops to be on standby if needed. This can all be taught.

In this example, educating and setting expectations play a role. It may never have occurred to the production manager to ask the service tech for options, such as borrowing the needed part from the vendor, or of calling another shop with a Baltindicoh to have them on standby. These types of response draw on the PFC as well as other parts of the brain. But there must be something in those other spots in the gray matter that can be used. Think of it as a way of rewiring some of the prefrontal cortex.

Use your PFC to be aware
Too often an employee or even an executive of a company can be sufficiently intimidated by the head or owner of a company to not say things the head person or owner would rather not hear. For instance, a business owner may have given the impression that s/he doesn’t like bad news in general. As a result, some employees would rather not provide it.

When you run a business it’s important to know as much as you can about every factor that influences your success. If any of your team seem lacking in cogent planning, understanding of your business strategy or willingness to solve customer problems the shortcoming may be in their prefrontal cortex. You can’t fix their brain, but you may be able to work around it. Maybe a person isn’t in the best role for their abilities, regardless of what their resumé claims about their background. One of your jobs as boss is helping them find a role that best matches their skills.

This is rarely simple. But it may help explain why some employees (and other people you know) seem incapable of acting as rational adults and tend to bring their personal shortcomings to work. As I said, this is not simple, but chances are some of the people whose name is on the paychecks you sign may need some help, and you are in a position to help them.
Great article, Noel !

There are some simple techniques I have found over the years that can teach under developed PFC's how to overcome.

A very simple one: After an employee comes to you with problem, tell them "don't come to me with a problem without also having a couple of possible solutions that you have already researched."
Great article, Noel !

There are some simple techniques I have found over the years that can teach under developed PFC's how to overcome.

A very simple one: After an employee comes to you with problem, tell them "don't come to me with a problem without also having a couple of possible solutions that you have already researched."
Thanks! Good tip! I've done that too. I usually ask, "so what are you thinking?" And let them solve their own problem. Still, over 35 years in various businesses/companies it's amazing--scary, actually--how few people I've worked with seem to be adults.


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